Pep: I'd be first in queue for Messi
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has admitted he will be the first person on the phone to Lionel Messi if the world's best player signals his wish to leave Barcelona in the future.
As Guardiola returns to the Nou Camp this evening for only the second time as an opposition manager, convinced Barcelona will provide a yardstick of how far his City side have come in a few months, the Catalan raised the prospect of a sensational move for Messi down the line.
Although Guardiola confirmed he moved for Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo after his first choice target, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, rebuffed his advances in order to remain at the Nou Camp this summer, Guardiola refuted claims by Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo last month that he had tapped up Messi, Neymar and other Barcelona stars.
Yet it is understood that City's hierarchy believe they would be in pole position to buy Messi in the event he opted to take up a fresh challenge, a move Guardiola would clearly welcome and one Barcelona defender Gerard Pique acknowledged City would have the financial might to pull off.
"If you are talking about this summer, I never called Messi, I never called Neymar, Luis Suarez, Busquets, Iniesta, I didn't call anybody," the City manager said.
"As for Ter Stegen, I knew that he wanted to play all the time. We got in touch. He wasn't happy with his situation. We needed a goalkeeper like Claudio or Ter Stegen. Claudio came and Ter Stegen decided to stay.
"If I ever called a player playing in any other club it would be in a special situation of (him) not playing, and it would be my right to. It is okay, I could have phoned someone if he was not playing, but I never called Leo Messi.
"In the case of Leo, I really wish him to play here and finish his career here (at Barcelona). But maybe he will think, 'OK, I want to go play somewhere else' because maybe he wants his kids to speak English or live a different experience, like has happened to many of us.
"Maybe it could happen, but if he decides to go and it happens, there would be a list of seven or eight clubs that would want to sign him, and it would be down to him. Messi will decide where to go."
Pique said he would not be surprised if City made every effort to entice Messi.
"A club with the financial capacity like Manchester City can sign any player in the world and it's no surprise they focus on players from Barcelona," he said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to sign players from Barcelona, not because Pep is family here, but because it would be stupid not to think that."
Messi was instrumental in giving Guardiola's Bayern Munich what he described as a "whipping" in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final in May last year, when the Argentina maestro scored twice and set up the final goal for Neymar in a 3-0 win.
Pablo Zabaleta, the City right back and Messi's Argentina team-mate, said they will have to play the "perfect game" to keep Messi, Neymar and Suarez quiet and Guardiola insisted the game would provide a clear barometer of the strides his side have made since he took charge at the Etihad Stadium in July. Barcelona top Group C with six points while City have four.
"I need to know my team as quickly as possible and this a good test to know our level against one of the best teams, in my view the best team," the City manager said.
Guardiola believes Barcelona are a better team under coach Luis Enrique than the side he left behind in 2012 after winning 14 out of the 19 trophies he contested but has vowed to take his former club on at their own game "with some adjustments".
City lost all four of their Round of 16 knockout ties against Barcelona under Manuel Pellegrini but Enrique expects them to provide much stiffer competition under Guardiola and said he "can't imagine a better game for any football fan".
"It's not first time we have faced each other, Luis gave me a bit of whipping the first time but I had no doubts he would do well here," Guardiola said. "He is doing many things better than I was doing but I hope we can cause an upset or give him a scare.
"I would like to defend well and attack well and it is not possible (to change the way) you love to play football for one game because the players are not going to believe me.
"Obviously we have to adjust some things because of how they play but we have to be ourselves as much as possible.
"When they don't have the ball they get organised very fast. In my time we were good in the short counter attack, now they are very good in the short and long counter attacks and it makes them very dangerous.
"I don't know what instructions I can give to the defenders to control the talent (they have). They will have a moment and when they have a moment they are so dangerous, they don't need a lot of chances to score a goal.
"When we make a high press they are able to play the ball long with Luis Suaresz and it's hard because he's a fighter. It's very hard.
"If (we don't get a result), OK, we need to keep working, if we do, we need to keep going and trying our best."
Zabaleta believes City must execute their game-plan perfectly. "As a defender you can play a perfect game but in the 90th minute you can lose your balance and they make that difference at that time," he said. "We can't leave them alone at any time, we don't want to make the game easy for them." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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